The shortage of qualified installers continues to be a pressing issue for much of the flooring installation industry. Two companies looking to address the situation with training initiatives are Ardex, a developer and manufacturer of high-performance flooring installation products, and Fishman Flooring Solutions, a distributor of flooring and flooring installation products. FCI recently sat down with Andy Smith, Mid-Atlantic Region sales manager for Ardex, and Bill Mabeus, executive vice president of Fishman, to gain their perspectives on training and how the two companies collaborate to raise the skill levels of both new and experienced flooring installers.
Q: How would you describe the state of the flooring installation industry today? Is it in crisis with regard to certifications and training?
Smith: When I think of crisis, I think of a very dire situation. I don’t think that defines the flooring installation industry today. Manufacturers, however, continue to introduce innovative products that require technically trained, proficient installers—and they are definitely in short supply.
Mabeus: Fishman operates in the Midwest and on the East Coast. New construction and remodeling in those markets are at their highest levels in decades and the work is getting done in a timely manner. So I don’t believe there is a crisis. However, like Andy, I do think there is a shortage of highly skilled installers and that’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
Q: If you could change one thing about training in the flooring industry today, what would it be?
Mabeus: I’d make training a requirement across the industry. It’s now voluntary because most flooring installers today are subcontractors and, in many cases, the contractors they work for don’t require training.
Smith: Training in our industry needs to have greater significance. If I could change anything, I’d make certain that project specifications always specify the experience and training levels required for installers for a specific job.
Q: How much emphasis do your companies place on training today and how much time do you spend on training?
Smith: At Ardex, we understand that the success of our products is contingent on how well distributors and installers understand and use them. On average, we train over 10,000 people every year at our eight designated training facilities in the U.S. and Canada. Our technical field professionals also conduct training sessions at customer and distributor locations, as well as at job sites.
Mabeus: Like Ardex, we invest a great deal of time and money in training. On the customer side, we produce training videos that run constantly at all our locations, so customers can watch them when making purchases. Training videos can also be accessed on our website.
One thing that I think makes Fishman unique is that members of our sales team and other customer-facing professionals regularly share their expertise with the marketplace by writing articles for Floor Covering Installer, Floor Trends and other publications. Topics of these articles range from moisture mitigation techniques to properly prepping substrates to how to select and use the right adhesive for LVT installation.
On the employee side, we require our vendors to train the Fishman team. This takes place in a number of settings, including sales meetings and joint customer training sessions.
Q: How does Ardex collaborate with Fishman when it comes to training? How often does this collaboration take place?
Smith: Our two companies constantly collaborate, as we both identify training needs in the marketplace. The training could be for a new Fishman customer or employee, a new or specific product, or continuing education for the A&D community.
Q: What do you think is the key to successful training?
Mabeus: I think the best training occurs when everyone involved focuses on the ultimate goal, which is to deliver the greatest value to the marketplace. That’s the key to prosperity in our industry, and frankly every other industry.
Q: Which is more important in your mind: Directly training flooring contractors, or training the distribution network including management, counter personnel and sales professionals, at a company like Fishman?
Smith: It’s equally important to educate both distributors and installers on the what, why and how of products. First, they need to understand what solutions new or existing products provide. Second, why it’s important to their customers or company to add these products as offerings. Third, how these products are properly used to meet the needs of customers in a very demanding marketplace.
Q: How much time and effort do you think the best flooring contractors invest in learning how to use new flooring installation products?
Mabeus: That’s tough to answer. The key word in your question is “best.” There’s no question that training separates the best installers from the rest of the pack. It’s hard to know how much time they devote to training, but I do know that the top 25 to 30% of installers take every opportunity to train their people.
Q: Do most general contractors and other construction industry decision-makers know the right questions to ask to determine whether a flooring contractor and crew are properly trained to handle a specific job?
Mabeus: Many of them know the right questions to ask. The problem is they don’t ask the questions often enough, because they’re under pressure to get the job done quickly to meet compressed construction schedules. In the Fishman footprint, the right questions are most often asked in markets like Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Toledo, where unions do their own training in order to lock down new business.
Q: Is language ever a hurdle when training flooring contractors? For example, how do you accommodate installers whose use of the English language is limited?
Smith: Language can sometimes be a hurdle, so Ardex provides classes in the native language of the people we’re training. Our technical data sheets, which can be found on the back of every bag or pail of product we make, are in English, French and Spanish. I know Fishman is working to translate many of its sales materials into Spanish as well.
Q: We already know training is important for installers and distributors. Should it be the responsibility of everyone in the flooring industry to stay up to date on training?
Smith: Absolutely. All segments of the flooring industry should be involved in training: manufacturers, distributors, installers and retailers. Many companies do step up, but there’s certainly room for more leaders. In my opinion, industry leaders provide best-in-class, innovative products and industry-best service and support, with a strong focus on training.